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Episode Three — ‘It’s A Battle We’re In’

“We’re protesting gun violence because enough is enough,” said Arielle Duran, a student protester from Kensington, Maryland. “Too many people have died under the hands of the NRA and the unjust gun laws. It’s too easy to purchase guns. It’s way too easy.”

Students from Eastern High School in D.C. hold signs called for action on gun violence during a school walkout on March 14, 2018 Photo: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

Students from Eastern High School in Washington, D.C. hold signs calling for action on gun violence during a school walkout on March 14, 2018.
Photo: Tyrone Turner / WAMU

The 17-year-old was one of the thousands of students across America who walked out of school on March 14, 2018, for the #ENOUGH National School Walkout. Cry Havoc Theatre Company met Duran at a demonstration organized to bring attention to gun violence throughout the nation and to call attention to Congress’ inaction to do more than tweet “thoughts and prayers” in response to the gun violence plaguing our schools and neighborhoods.

Nationwide, most of the young people who participated simply left their classes and exited their school to demonstrate for 17 minutes in honor of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, one month earlier. But in Washington, D.C., thousands of young people from the Washington Metropolitan Area took to the National Mall to march and to chant outside of senatorial office buildings, and to gather on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol.

On the Capitol Lawn, Cry Havoc’s cast met several protesters who told them about instances where gunmen entered their schools. One student in D.C. told the performers from Texas that one time a gunman entered her school and that their teachers evacuated without telling the students. They were left alone in their classrooms alone and without a clue about what they were supposed to do.

“It’s sad to hear that these sorts of things happen in our country,” said sophomore Jamaya Parker. “I thought we had it bad because we have to walk through metal detectors that don’t work and out of shape security guards.”

As informative as this encounter with teen protesters was to the performers, it was not the reason they visited Washington. They were there to learn what was being done to fix the country’s problem with gun violence. And in order to do so, they scheduled meetings with politicians and lobbyists.

“I may have an ‘F’ rating with the NRA, but I don’t have an ‘F’ rating with NRA members,” joked Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy while talking to the teens. They met with him in his office for a 30-minute chat about guns and gun violence.

In March 2018, Murphy, a Democrat, was a co-sponsor of a bill called the Fix NICS Act. He worked on the bill with Texas Senator John Cornyn.  And soon after the actors met both senators, the bill passed through the Senate and the House. A short time later, the bill was signed into law by President Trump.

Fix NICS is a bill that strengthens background checks and encourages states to report more frequently to the current criminal database. Both Senators see it as one of the most important bills passed in recent history. But both politicians also told the actors that Fix NICS wasn’t a law that would end gun violence, but they hoped it could reduce the chances of a person getting a gun when they weren’t supposed to have one.

Senator John Cornyn

Cornyn has been a United States Senator representing Texas since 2002. During his time in the Senate, he’s been a leading defender of the Second Amendment. And his consistent defense of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms has earned him a perfect A+ rating from the National Rifle Association.

But the Texas Senator says the mass shooting at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs in November 2017 changed everything for him. He told a Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2017 that he had grown tired of politicians simply saying we need “to do something.”

“Every day we let the current dysfunction in the background check system continue, lives are in jeopardy. So I hope we will do ‘do something’ and that ‘that something’ will make a difference and save lives.” 

After his speech to the Judiciary Committee, Cornyn reached across the aisle to Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy to develop the Fix NICS Act. The quickly passed through the house and the senate, and eventually earned President Trump’s signature. But in May 2018, when Cry Havoc attended the NRA’s Annual Meeting, a meeting the Senator headlined, he failed to mention his landmark bill at NRA’s Leadership Forum.

“Ladies and gentlemen, you know it’s a battle we’re in. The Second Amendment is under attack. There are those today that are trying to shut us up and shut us down.”

Instead, Cornyn took on the same angry and embattled tone other Second Amendment enthusiasts had at the convention.

We reached out to Senator Cornyn for comment on all of this. But his office declined an interview. In an email, they said Cornyn considers the Fix NICS Act to be “the accomplishment he’s most proud of.” And they called it quote “the only major reform of the background check system in decades.”

We told his representatives that Cry Havoc’s actors were confused about why Cornyn didn’t mention the bill at the convention, despite talking about Sutherland Springs. His office replied Cornyn did talk about Fix NICS at the convention — just not in his speech at the NRA’s Leadership Forum.

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